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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science and Fiction
Through details of famous writers' medical maladies, John Ross explores their lives and literary works. What killed George Orwell: the stress of writing 1984, the damp and dreary weather on the Scottish island of Jura, or bad treatments for a childhood illness? If Milton had not gone blind, would he have written Paradise Lost? Did Jack London's self-medication lead to his...
Published on 7 Oct 2012 by K. Logan

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not all that I hoped for
I brought this book based on a review within bbc focus magazine. Usually this does me well and I enjoy their suggested reading. This sadly was not the case for orwell's cough.

Focusing on the medical conditions of some of the great literature writers the author guides you through their condition its historical relevance and his view on this issue. Both my wife...
Published 22 months ago by Mark L


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science and Fiction, 7 Oct 2012
By 
K. Logan "urban fairytaler" (Glasgow) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Orwell's Cough: Diagnosing the Medical Maladies and Last Gasps of the Great Writers (Hardcover)
Through details of famous writers' medical maladies, John Ross explores their lives and literary works. What killed George Orwell: the stress of writing 1984, the damp and dreary weather on the Scottish island of Jura, or bad treatments for a childhood illness? If Milton had not gone blind, would he have written Paradise Lost? Did Jack London's self-medication lead to his physical weakening and eventual death? Also under investigation are Shakespeare's syphilis, Jonathan Swift's dementia, the Brontė sisters' tuberculosis, Nathaniel Hawthorne's stomach cancer, and the many maladies of Herman Melville. As well as plenty of interesting detail about writers' lives, there are tidbits about medicine through the ages, such as the Ancient Roman method of treating venereal disease.
The author is the Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, so he certainly knows his science; what's wonderful about this book is that he knows his novels too. The prose reads well, and each chapter has the drama and narrative arc of fiction. The details of the writers' lives are fascinating, and it's enjoyable to trace how their physical ailments may have affected their work. Orwell's Cough manages the perfect balance: enough medicalese to interest the biologically-minded, and enough details about writers' lives for the literary-minded. As soon as I finished the book, I turned right back to the start and read it again.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not all that I hoped for, 12 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Orwell's Cough: Diagnosing the Medical Maladies and Last Gasps of the Great Writers (Hardcover)
I brought this book based on a review within bbc focus magazine. Usually this does me well and I enjoy their suggested reading. This sadly was not the case for orwell's cough.

Focusing on the medical conditions of some of the great literature writers the author guides you through their condition its historical relevance and his view on this issue. Both my wife and myself read this book and agreed that it is very repetitive. The Author follows a similar patter throughout his chapters and this leave the reader a firm knowledge of what will be coming next. I liken this to being on a journey similar to your trip to work, you know it is different but at the same time very familiar. I think the root of this problem is the author's background. Originally written for a medical group of people it is clear that the author is a very analytical and methodical person. Qualities that are useful as a doctor, less useful as an author.

This negative element does not distract from the content being very interesting and if you pick this book up you will learn something new (possibly). However you will not be entertained in any sense and you may be tempted to put this book down over turning the page to find out 'what happens next'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life and death in literature: A rewarding dip into forensic medicine and writing, 1 Dec 2013
This is a fascinating book that works both as forensic medicine and literature. The first chapter on one William Shakespeare was overall the least engaging. There was more than a dram of speculation, which given the time period and historic record is perhaps excusable. I almost put the book down at that point (a large draft of belladonna with newt urine by pipette). But, persisted and was rewarded. Mr Ross has sound knowledge of the writers, their personal history and works. He also describes the development of medicine and the love of doctors to kill or seriously maim their patients with the orthodoxy of the day. For those who believe science is the only model of value in the cake shop today, it is a lesson on there is no single truth/silver bullet. Science remains experimentation, trial and elimination and sometimes that includes the poor, suffering patient. The doctor cannot and does not know everything and not everything they know is necessarily sound. A reflection for today, will a John Ross of the future be describing chemotherapy or other cancer treatments that may have polished of writers such as Christopher Hitchens. All very state of the art but more primitive than we may understand or give weight to. Reading books such as this inform us it is unlikely we recognise diseases that in later times may become obvious but which we today are blissfully unaware of as we continue to shorten our lives with a range of vices, treatments, lifestyles, habits and environmental ticking bombs. Mine is supporting Newcastle United, which I am told has shortened my life considerably. All I can say is thank goodness I did not support Manchester United or I would have had no life at all! I learned a lot from this book about the various writers and in particular the Bronte's tribe, Jonathan Swift, Herman Melville and WB Yeats. It made me rethink my approach to their work through the prism of possible medical conditions. Mr Ross is to be commended for some fine investigative/detective work through some very dusty tomes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Different, 22 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Orwell's Cough: Diagnosing the Medical Maladies and Last Gasps of the Great Writers (Hardcover)
Fascinating. Only wish there were more books which investigate medical histories of people from the past. I'd love to know what really ailed Florence Nightingale for example.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Medical lives of literary doyens, 19 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Orwell's Cough (Kindle Edition)
Birth, sickness and death remain the three elemental biological truths of every sentient being. In a curiously mounted collection, Ross rounds up a bunch of literary giants and scrapes off the veneer of these touchstones to reveal a smattering of germs: literal and psychological. I say curious as the process of selection is opaque to the reader although it is clear that all the authors and poets chronicled here are author's favourites given his empathic and sweeping life-accounts of each without missing a beat. I must level a minor criticism against the format which stinks up a tedium rather quickly especially if the book's ten chapters are read back to back. The pattern responsible, that the reader is treated to ten times over, contains a thoroughly well-written introduction with a scene written in the style reminiscent of the era of the author, followed by a catalogue of immediate family, childhood and adolescence before the account of illnesses that plagued the physique and the psyche, dovetailed by a medical summary of contemporary management that the patients are greeted with now before bidding an elegiac goodbye, rightfully but predictably applauding the writers for battling their ills and blossoming creatively at the same time.

But the matter is almost too compelling to be read one chapter at a time. Like a voyeuristic teenager entering a hospital ward and chancing upon the bedside notes of a celebrity patient, I read with owl-like alertness the ignominy of disease and doctoring these gifted people found themselves affected by, especially the cover-hogging Orwell and the Bard.

Their struggles with disease and treatment found a way in their work while alive and in their image posthumously, but Ross drives home the point that these illness experiences as patients were as much a part of their existence as their celebrated work. It helps that he is an undisguised fan of all of them, as while humanising them with their ailments, he pads their patient selves with delicious bits of literary criticism drawn from his own reading of their works, some wonderful context-setting introductions and a sweeping biography celebrating them in whole. Ultimately this curious collection is all his: he is everywhere, quoting them, becoming them, diagnosing their psychiatric conditions on the page before his readers, finding evidence for the off-shoots in writing from their maladies and even fighting battles with their critics. I was completely won over by his endearing crusade to re-frame Bronte sisters and Herman Melville with the naysayers and give sympathetic arcs to even the most unpleasant of characters like Jack London and Jonathan Swift.

There is an awful lot of heavy metal poisoning (lead, mercury and arsenic), a liberal smattering of sexually transmitted diseases (syphillis, gonorrhea), lung disorders by a shovel-full (bronchiectasis, tuberculosis), some cancer and a cloud of depression and bipolar disorder that hangs constantly in the horizon, but none of this drags Ross's empathic and erudite, if slightly format-constricted book down.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Orwell's Cough, 28 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Orwell's Cough: Diagnosing the Medical Maladies and Last Gasps of the Great Writers (Hardcover)
I found the historical aspects and the social settings very interesting indeed, and the book as a whole certainly inspired me to learn more
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect marriage of science and literature, 2 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Orwell's Cough (Kindle Edition)
This is my favorite book for the decade. Multi-layered details about ten of our literary greats inspires an appreciation of their history, health and struggles. My only point for improvement was that the chapter titles were not easily associated with the literary great to which they applied. I'm looking forward to reading this book for the third time soon.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enjoyed this tremendously, 26 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Orwell's Cough (Kindle Edition)
informative but also fun to read not at all the sort of thing i usually go for but nice to know more about some of my f
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